TELLING THE TRUTH: Why Our Culture and Our Country Have Stopped Making Sense and What We Can Do About It by Lynne V. Cheney

TELLING THE TRUTH: Why Our Culture and Our Country Have Stopped Making Sense and What We Can Do About It

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The conservative former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities fires this latest salvo in the culture wars. A single disastrous trend, argues Cheney, underlies political correctness in schools and museums, frivolous sexual harassment and affirmative action suits, and the decline of substantive political campaigns: a lack of faith in objective reality, together with standards of truth, beauty, and excellence that appeal to such reality for their support. It's a challenging argument indeed, one that deserves a more thoughtful champion. Cheney's avowed aims here are to examine the origins and legitimacy of ""radical skepticism"" and to suggest means by which truth and reason can be restored to their proper places. But her anecdotal, associative, dogmatic presentation is less interested (and certainly less successful) in pressing these arguments than in rounding up the usual suspects. Though she denounces revisionist historians' habit of discouraging any ""search for a complicated truth,"" Cheney's own prejudices are strenuously unnuanced: Instead of examining, for instance, the whole drift of European metaphysics since Kant toward radical subjectivism, or considering the political commitments of her idol Matthew Arnold, she pins much of the blame for the sad state of contemporary American culture on the unholy triumvirate of Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, and Michel Foucault. The wife of the former defense secretary is shocked, shocked at accusations that she might have politicized the NEH, but she seems incapable of pinning the many abuses she aptly uncovers, from college students' buying A's by aping their teachers' views to biased reporting of presidential campaigns, on anybody but the Left; when Arthur Schlesinger quietly criticizes the National History Standards but refuses to align himself with her knee-jerk rejection of them, she can only wonder at his failure of nerve. Books like this, whether from Left or Right, aim not to persuade but, like talk radio, to encourage bonding among the elect.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1995
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster